Joyland

Vancouver |

Some People Swallow the Universe Like a Pill

by Danielle Egan

This story was made with 100% recycled materials collected over a two-year period, from the words and phrases known as “word salad decoys” that advertisers use to undermine SPAM filters. *** “They are blinded by rose colored dreams,” said Carlos. “Heaven. Eternity. God. Habitual behavior. They build their castles on wishes.” Then, quietly, “I reached home just in time.” “In time for what?” Melida asked. But he did not answer the question. (He attaches a lot of importance to face-to-face interaction.) "Hello?" she says into the phone. “What are you going to do?” “I don’t know. Life seems like a studied madness.” He pictured his mother, lying in her grave. "Carlos, I must see you.” "Yes. Today.” *** Another day of trying to recover from the funeral. There's a leak in this old building. The family now lives on about $80 a week in child support that his mother’s former husband sends for the children. Once again, Carlos looks at some of the messages of condolence he has received. One sympathy card read: ‘… Was blind but now I see… now I'm found… I am a sinner before God … And if we said our prayers… … You know I kept the family bible…’ He experienced the sensation one feels while descending in an elevator. His mind tried to make sense of the stilted prose, but the note was virtually illegible. (He deducted marks for bad handwriting.) He recalled that F. Scott Fitzgerald once handed in a manuscript with seven consecutive grammatical errors and misspelled words. Rob arrived. They hadn’t spoken since the day of the funeral, with everyone sobbing miserably except for these two old friends who were still in shock and couldn’t yet shed tears of sorrow. Even though he’d been forgiven in words, Rob found it hard not to see blame and judgment in those eyes he’d known since childhood; the irrevocable years. They had the same nightmares about that terrible accident, the truck smashing into the van and the eyes of their mother (for while they were not blood brothers, Rob had had no mother of his own since he was a baby, poor thing) dying in the back seat. Of course, both young men couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if Rob hadn’t been driving. “What did you do last night?” Rob wondered. “I just laid down on the couch and let cats walk over me all night long.” To the unhappy, one night can be an eternity. “What are those?” “Medicine,” answered the boy. “It provides a quick method of travel. You want to join in?” “Yes. Of course.” Rob swallowed the pill like it was the universe. *** After a brief television survey, they started upon another adventure, which promised to be just as queer and unusual as those they had before encountered. When they reached a point just above the town Rob said, “I have in my possession secrets of untold benefit to the world. See?” He showed Carlos his watch. “Here is an electrical device that is, perhaps, the most remarkable of any I possess. On this dial are points marked 'up' and 'down' as well as a compass. To rise into the air, set the indicator to the word up.” He turned the indicator of his traveling machine and immediately rose into the air. The vast city was beneath him, but he moved no faster than an ordinary walk. “At this rate I'll get home some time next year,” he grumbled. “However, I suppose I ought to be glad the machine works at all.” We who stick closely to the earth's surface can scarcely realize how Rob could travel through the air at such dizzy heights without any fear or concern whatsoever. But, since the accident, he had come to consider the air a veritable refuge. Experience had given him implicit confidence in the powers of the electrical instrument whose unseen forces carried him. While the tiny, watch-like machine was clasped to his wrist he felt himself to be absolutely safe. His trousers had a bluish, incandescent color, with glowing stripes of crimson. He left behind him all the colors of the rainbow, blended into a flashing, resplendent mass. Moving leisurely over the city, he selected a deserted thoroughfare to alight in. So he turned the indicator to the word down, and very slowly it obeyed, allowing him, to his great relief, to sink gently to the ground from whence he wandered unobserved into the beautiful boulevards of large houses. A mile long row of small mansions. Here are fantastic treasures for those strong enough to take them! Here comes a dog with a piece of flesh, crossing a bridge. “Do not be disheartened,” says the dog. “For I have news for you. We try to create the memory everyone thinks they're going to have. If your party has two Mountaineers, you can walk north through the mountains." But Carlos had vanished. On his bike. Really it was a horse that allowed the boy to mount him. “A nice country this is,” said Carlos. “Where a respectable horse has to eat pink grass!” “It's violet,” said a Wizard in a buggy. “The trouble with you Earth people is that you delight in guessing about what you can not know. Martians know as much about that little planet as you do yourself. And they seem to have some desire to work closely with humans. Many scientific men think the people of Mars have been trying to signal us for years, only we don't understand their signals.” “I don’t believe it!” “It is true. Great novelists have written about the Martians and their wonderful civilization. They are hidden in the Vatican library.” I must really be tripping, thought Carlos. He decided to part company with this chance acquaintance. A moment later, on looking back, he discovered that the old gentleman had disappeared. He went to Melida’s house. She’s in the den/computer lab, at her Macintosh doing her computer art. This, I believe will be the wave of the future, he thinks. Artists that create work for the realm of computers and networks are deployed to indoctrinate children into the ways of the linear, furthering the acceptance of a paperless environment. “You poor creature!” she says seeing his paleness and huge pupils. His hair, cut off in the hospital, is only now starting to grow back. “I'm well and strong and there's nothing wrong with my head, either.” He thought about the seemingly endless possibilities of computer technology. “Can thoughts be interpreted by a computer?” “Yes. They’ve done it with monkeys and stroke victims.” He’s very pale and his teeth are chattering. “With computers everything is different than it was twenty years ago. Electronic mail, the fantastic wealth of information along with the advanced technological capabilities of VR and artificial intelligence. Technology is moving at such a rapid rate, with more and more sophisticated software that contemporary society is virtual reality.” He thought about his mother, cold in her grave. Even if this technology could bring his mother back in digital form she could become a guinea pig for a perfectionistic VR developer. Programmers could get their hands on her, even pirate her image. But he had seen the last spark go out of her eyes. She would never feel the warmth of the sun, just beginning to triumph over the freshness of the morning, when there is just a lingering hint of early coolness to keep off languor under the delicious influence of - “I know that I will go on loving you eternally,” she said. His eyes looked at her eagerly in spite of himself. He thought she did not seem to be flirting at all. She smiled less than usual and there was almost a sweet sadness about her. God bless her, he said inwardly (even though he didn’t believe in god), I’d make her life happy. There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish; but there is one order of beauty which seems made to turn the heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals. It is a beauty like that of kittens beginning to engage in conscious mischief—a beauty with which you can never be angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the state of mind into which it throws you. She was that sort of beauty. “You are a friend. We have to become more. I feel the flames all over me. I feel the sensation of burning.” He grabbed her and held her down. “Bite me hard.” *** We are all very much alike when we are in our first love, being just a little bit lost, but having lots of fun; the uncertain channel of oral desire —always a real goosebump moment. People release potent chemical signals that can have profound effects on other people. “At one time I really thought I should never see you again and would certainly die by mine own hands,” he said. “I still have days when I feel someone has put a thousand weights on me. And, as I'm the heavier, I suppose you'll drop me first.” “Certainly never,” declared Melida. “Never leave me alone 'cause I die every time we're apart.” “Should I promise?” “No don’t! Accept this medication. This potion temporarily increases your attributes, such as strength, speed, IQ, the more intimate senses.” She accepted. She began to realize that she had started on a long queer journey. “I'm going for a little trip in the interests of science. I may be back tonight, or I may be gone several days. You mustn't worry about me a single minute.” “No,” said Carlos remembing Rob and his traveling machine thing. He described it to Melida. “This is an extremely chaotic world. We should find out where he is.” He felt a surge of brotherly love envelop his heart, for love had united them for life. No matter how desperately both wanted to turn back time, they would not be able to save their mother’s life. Only together could they face the chilling hand of death. He soon developed his expertise with the cordless phone, then called Rob. "This is Carlos," he says. "I would like to talk to you, please. Where are you?” *** Geography had always been Rob’s stumbling block at school, and he had not learned to gage the speed of the traveling machine, so he was completely mystified as to his whereabouts. Presently a village having many queer spires and minarets whisked by him like a flash. Rob became worried, and resolved to slow up at the next sign of habitation. Sara would be at the hotel, room number 1200. Maybe she would wrap him in her arms and forgive his sins. Pausing at length above the imposing structure of the hotel, Rob noticed at one of the upper floors an open window, before which was a small iron balcony. Alighting upon this he proceeded to enter, without hesitation, the open window. He put the indicator to the zero mark and remained stationary, while he examined the place, which looked like the chamber of a great king. Here was an elitist group of people with enough money to gain access to themselves. People who pay attention to contemporary journalistic and cultural tastemakers. Sara Sorrels looked at him in a surprised way as he entered the room. In feature he was most majestic, and his eyes held the soft but penetrating brilliance of electric lights. Bill did not notice him though. “My grandfather has given me carte blanche,” said Bill. “And I promise you the entertainment shall be worthy of the occasion.” Sarah didn’t even reach out her hand to Rob with a transient greeting. She and Dinah sat there quite contentedly and talked in a serious way, asking, “What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?” “One of the meals here is so delicious, you will feel like you have soared to the heights of heaven!” said Bill. “Good,” Sara answered with a dimpled smile, as if she did not quite know what had been said. It made a strange contrast to see that sparkling self-engrossed loveliness looked at by Rob’s face, with its open glance which told that his heart had cherished secrets of its own, feelings which it longed to share with all the world. She looked askance at him, like a stranger and never spoke. Bill picked up the phone ordered a ridiculous list of food in his rude voice, then continued his unseasonable boasting. “It’s a desperately dull business being shut up at the castle in the summer months, when one can neither hunt nor shoot,” said Bill. There was a great deal of discussion about the possibility of his finding a house that would do for him to settle in. And other egregious lusts of the flesh and fake pride. I'm right on the brink, it's animal instinct, Rob said to himself. Then, Keep cool and bide your time. Sara sat back on her lofty throne, like an Olympian goddess. There was a more luxuriant womanliness about her and she seemed profoundly interested in Bill and his material things. The force of repulsion is just as powerful as attraction, Rob thought. If you could only love enough, you could be the most powerful person in the world. But you can’t. You are false and unauthentic. He sat for a long time by the window in deep thought about this. His eyes grew more and more accustomed to the splendor that at first had well-nigh blinded him. Music played in the background: Say my name, say my name. If no one is around you… Bill continued preaching his carnal and soul-numbing fables, trafficking in the souls, groaning and muttering in outlandish speech. Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt. Like, “I want another big yacht, I can cruise in. All it takes is a million or two.” “You seem quite anxious to get rid of money,” remarked Rob. “How much are you worth?” “Who are you? What name, please?” demanded Bill. “Oh, never mind my name,” replied Rob. “Money can't buy love.” After a moment's reflection he declared, “White men lie all the time because there is no warm blood in them. And they have no hearts, so they can't love anyone--not even themselves. Me eat plenty white man.” Sarah glared at him with evident disappointment. “You’re white!” “You do not see the difference between us?” “How did you gain admittance?” asked Bill. “Sorry. He’s my friend,” said Sara in a painfully embarrassed tone. “Maybe it's better not to talk to him,” said Dinah. “He’s trippin.” How to get away from this beastly place? Rob thought. I'll be eaten if I don't look out! These and similar thoughts: Why did we not expect that the Iraqi people would resist occupation?; It is easy to take liberty for granted when you have never had it taken from you; The biggest disease today is the feeling of being unwanted; 2 to 3 percent of the United States population has half of the story; in a civilized country that car accident wouldn’t have happened and she would be alive today; no, hypocrite, you killed her! These thoughts occupied him for some time, yet in spite of much planning and thinking he could find no practical means of escape because panic is a sudden desertion, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination. At the end of an hour he found himself surrounded by a ring of the cannibals in their rich clothes and masks, eating a great abundance of food. They had seated themselves to watch his movements. Perhaps they intend to starve me into surrender, he thought. But they won't succeed so long as my tablets hold out. Failure is not an option. He couldn’t contain himself any longer. “America is old and dirty and evil!” “Get out!” “Yes, I think you’d better leave.” Rob shook his head, and ran for the door. Once outside, he set the indicator to the northwest. Having found that he moved more swiftly when farthest from the earth's surface, because the air was more rarefied and offered less resistance, Rob mounted upwards until the land was a mere speck visible through the clear, sunny atmosphere, the broad surface of the Pacific seeming like a blue cloud far beneath him. That was a narrow escape, he thought, breathing more freely. But then, huge birds at once began their attack. The first one to dart towards him was a flamingo. It said, “You cannot fly like an eagle with wings of a wren.” Its mate renewed its circling flight, moving so swiftly that Rob could scarcely follow it. Then the crows attacked. "Don't strew our pathway with your dreadful technology and odor,” cried the great black birds with shrewd eyes. “Your responsibility is to flounder and fail! Goddamn human race deserves itself and you richly deserve your fate, for you are a bird of prey!” And they flew away, leaving him crestfallen, doubting everything, including the powers of the instrument. The effect was beginning to wear away. If my plane should go down, what legacy would I leave behind? In his excitement he turned the indicator this way and that, trying to change the direction of his flight, but the only result of his endeavour was to carry him directly over downtown. Already a few sky-gazers had noted the boy moving high in the air, above their heads, and one or two groups stood pointing their fingers at him. He started down and whirled through space toward the sidewalk far below, his limbs failing him, his beautiful eyes closed. Under a leaden-coloured sky, with a narrowing streak of yellow, he walked down State Street to the river and back again, taking in the architecture and the human activity. Then he wanted to go home; a foolish lost lamb wandering farther and farther in the nightfall on the lonely heath. He lay down and began to examine his electrical traveling machine. He did not dare take it apart, fearing he might not be able to get it together again, for he knew nothing at all about its construction and resolved to regain a foothold upon the earth and walk to Melida’s. *** He gathered a dozen brilliant flowers on his way: Rhododendron, oleander and hydrangea. Approaching the house, he saw two people running towards him from the trees. As they advanced they waved their arms wildly in the air and cried in joyful tones, so great was their joy at his appearance. Who, being loved by a true friend, is poor? Carlos and Melida began hugging him to their giant fluttering hearts. The benevolent reader will be delighted to know the tears came finally. Great rushing tears.